More than 20 years have passed before North Carolina has played consecutive games against SEC opponents, but it will happen this week. The Tar Heels on Sunday play against Tennessee at the Smith Center. And then on Saturday UNC plays against Kentucky in Las Vegas.
One of those games will come with considerably more hype and attention than the other. Nonetheless, UNC’s game against Tennessee is important, too, if for no other reason than it provides the Tar Heels with their first chance to respond from a sloppy performance on Wednesday against Davidson.
This is only the fourth time UNC has played against Tennessee in the past 18 years, and the teams never met during Dean Smith’s 36-year tenure as the Tar Heels’ head coach. Three things to know:
1. The Tar Heels will likely play their second consecutive game without Joel Berry.
Berry watched the Davidson game on Wednesday from the bench, where he was wearing a suit and a boot on his left foot. There has been no indication that he’s ready to play after suffering a sprained ankle last weekend and, with Kentucky coming up next weekend, there’s good reason to allow Berry to rest and heal. A UNC spokesman said Berry was “very doubtful” to play on Sunday. UNC missed him during its 83-74 victory against Davidson. The Tar Heels committed turnovers on 19.2 percent of their possessions – tied for their third-highest rate this season – and their effective field goal percentage of 45.9 percent was their second-lowest of the season, according to kenpom.com. If Berry doesn’t play again, UNC will have to be more efficient and crisper offensively.
2. Hello again, Rick Barnes.
There was a time, long ago, when Barnes was public enemy No. 1 among UNC fans. That was in March 1995, after a memorable confrontation between Barnes and Dean Smith in the ACC tournament. Barnes went 1-9 against the Tar Heels during his time at Clemson, but he was 5-1 against UNC during his tenure at Texas. Now in his first season at Tennessee, where he faces a rebuilding challenge, this is Barnes’ third trip back to the Smith Center since he left Clemson. The Tar Heels defeated Barnes and Texas in the Smith Center in 2011 and lost in 2013.
3. Justin Jackson is on quite the streak to start the season.
UNC sports information director Steve Kirschner unearthed some interesting numbers that put into context what Jackson has done during his first 10 games. For one, he has already made 22 3-pointers this season. Last year, it took him 28 games to do that – and it took him 34 games to make 22 3s during his freshman season. Jackson’s perimeter shooting has been one of the brightest of UNC’s bright spots early in the season. Jackson leads UNC with an average of 16.4 points per game, and he has made 39.3 percent of his 3s – second on the team behind Berry (41.9 percent).
Tennessee (4-3) at UNC (9-1)
When: 5 p.m., Sunday
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill